2. The media.
Watching the string of horrible presidents from Reagan to Bush II, criminals in all three branches of the Federal and many state governments, illegal military actions, invasions and massive theft, the casual and systematic corruption in local governments and school districts, a decision became unavoidable. I could continue to pretend the protections insuring the health of democracy, assumed to exist in American law and society, were effective for their purpose. Or I could believe the evidence all around that those have failed catastrophically.
There was no choice. The traditionally cited protections of democracy, the Constitution, the judiciary, representative government and the media have produced the results we see now. The greatest of those failures, corrupting the very base of democracy, has been the media. It can honestly be called the “free press” now only if sarcasm is the intent.
In a period during which the media have enjoyed just about complete lack of restriction on their content, freedom from any obligation to serve the public or to provide accurate information fairly, and have also enjoyed a level of saturation into our lives to an extent never before possible, the ignorance of the American People about the most basic and essential aspects of life, is conclusive evidence of negligence and malfeasance. The media has abnegated their part in assuring our freedom.
They gleefully and smugly celebrate the ignorance of the American People in short news features about polling which shows a majority more informed of the personal lives of the short-lived celebrities they present ad nauseam, but can’t name their own representative to Congress or identify the Bill of Rights when it is read to them. They didn’t ask what part the media played in this ignorance, though they take up many times more hours of our lives than compulsory schooling does. With the opportunity to inform The People, their choice has been to optimize their own profits and propagandize in favor of corrupt politicians who will ensure their further profit. Facts or lies, it doesn’t matter as long as The People are bamboozled to their benefit and our eyes delivered to their advertisers.
This situation calls into question the theoretical reason for the freedom of the press. Why provide them with it if an ignorant army of voters and discouraged non-voters, ensuring bad government, is the predictable result? Freedom of the press has to be given a thorough look. The various things unwisely bundled under that umbrella need to be separated and inspected for usefulness to the emergency of a democracy at risk of dying through negligence.
Rights held by individual people are possessed by the fact of their birth. Those rights are inherent to every person and are inalienable. The only justifiable reason to abridge the exercise of those rights is if the individual uses them to deprive other people of the exercise of their rights.
Corporations and associations aren’t born, they are created by agreements and contracts. These corporations exist to magnify the power of the individuals who form them. Their purpose is generally to supercede the state of being an individual, to gain the individuals forming them more power to do something than they would be able to without the corporation. Corporations don’t possess natural rights, they were given what rights they are alleged to hold by some of the worst Supreme Court rulings, unenumerated innovations never protested by the “original intent” con game. Without stipulating the legitimacy of that fiction, I will ask if the rights held by corporations don’t, at the very least, carry the same limitations as those held by individuals who use them to deny others their rights? I will also ask if differences in the power of those granted those artifical rights doesn’t require equally powerful restrictions of their exercise, as a matter of regulating the dangers resulting from inequality of effectiveness and motivation. Doesn’t the very fact that a corporation is formed to concentrate and magnify power to acquire and influence require equally strong regulation of their tendency to use that for ends that serve their private gain, as opposed to the public’s benefit?
Why should the press, as a corporate entity, be granted those rights mentioned in the constitution? The traditional answer is that a free people must be informed to keep their freedom. They have to have a sufficient grasp of real life to make good decisions both in their personal lives and as citizens participating in democracy. Those choices aren’t interchangeable preferences like what brand of hand soap you buy. It makes a real difference if The People get it right or wrong. The press is granted the right to serve that non-optional requirement, to provide accurate information for The People so we can protect our freedom and ourselves.
What if the press doesn’t keep its part of the bargain? Which ours has not. What if the press becomes the enemy of democracy and equality, if it subverts the existence of an informed populace? As ours does. Can that press remain free? Can it truly be free.
If our history continues, I believe that one of its lessons will be that when the press freely gives up its responsibility to inform The People, their choice is actually to give up their ability to publish freely what doesn’t serve the despots that eventually result from The Peoples’ uninformed decisions. We The People won’t have to abridge the freedom of the press, the press will provide those who will do it as a matter of course.
It is a natural right for an individual to publish their words and ideas, such as we writers for this blog are engaged in. It is an extension of free speech and if the words do not deprive others of their rights the exercise of those rights cannot be limited justly . But even the biggest blog, unamplified by the commercial media in the way that Matt Drudge regularly is, has a limited effect on the political life of the country. Amplification makes all the difference in the political effect of any part of the press.
There is an absurd presumption that the amplification of words by money and the media it buys doesn’t fundamentally change the nature of the press. This is a pretense we can’t afford after witnessing the selling of the Iraq invasion, the stolen election of 2000 and myriad other betrayals of democracy by the press. Corporate media isn’t a guarantee of democracy and freedom, their use has proven that they are the harbingers of despotism in service to wealth. “More speech” is a snappy slogan when it’s a difference between five hundred more words posted on an obscure blog or two hundred words fed to millions through the TV and radio. The medium matters. The Founders had no idea that the kind of mass media around today could exist, they had no idea of a “press” dominated by corporations that can swamp their tiny competitors at will, effectively blacklisting any ideas they choose through ignoring or distorting them in an effort to negate their effect.
With the experience of the modern, mass media, and corporate concentration of the most effective parts of the media, it is clear that “the press” is able to be as much a danger to democracy and civil liberties as it is a guarantor of liberty when it is diverse and diversely held.
Taken in aggregate, the media in the United States is a device to disable the ability of The People to cast an informed vote. Through lies, bias, distortion, propaganda, distraction and demoralization, the media is guilty of corruption of voters and potential voters in the United States. The exceptions, mostly in print, are, at best, of scanty importance to the issue of self-governance. The rest, commercial and allegedly public and non-profit, are guilty of a list of crimes against democracy.
You cannot also serve both democracy and Mammon. You will always serve one and hate the other. The corporate media serves Mammon.